Race and Religion

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Nicholas Kristof argues in a sharp column in today’s NYT that the underground campaign to make Barack Obama into a Muslim serves as a workaround:

What is happening, I think, is this: religious prejudice is becoming a proxy for racial prejudice. In public at least, it’s not acceptable to express reservations about a candidate’s skin color, so discomfort about race is sublimated into concerns about whether Mr. Obama is sufficiently Christian.

It’s a good point, but I’d be careful about generalizing it. As Obama himself never fails to point out, he’s got a pretty exotic background; and among its more exotic elements are his non-observant African Muslim father and his somewhat observant Indonesian Muslim stepfather. There’s no shortage of anti-Muslim prejudice in America today, and Obama’s biography (and name, of course) has given it an opening.
Is the underground campaign despicable? Absolutely. Does it serve to “otherize” Obama? No question. When it comes to black leaders, the stereotypical other is the angry reverend who stands up there trying to make you feel guilty for stuff that happened to his people a long time ago. Obama refuses to fit that mold.